Australian Enthusiasm for Hitler’s Germany
David S Bird
North Melbourne Vic: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2012.
Paperback xviii + 448pp RRP $44.00
Reviewer: Mike O’Brien, June 2020
It is a sad fact that many Australians were attracted to Hitler’s brand of national socialism prior to and even during the Second World War. It is even sadder that some of them combined this with anti-Semitism. There was a newspaper – The National Socialist: a Paper Devoted to the British Race and British Culture – though it only ran to two issues in 1936 and 1937. Among its poppycock it included Christianity, alongside Bolshevism and democracy, as a component of the Jewish world-conspiracy to subjugate the Aryans. “We British” were apparently Aryans too!
The dramatis personae of this act – perhaps better termed farce – included many Australian literary figures. The most prominent of these was P.R. (Inky) Stephensen, sometime ghost-writer for Frank Clune. He had previously had communist leanings: while at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar he was a party member together with Graham Greene and A.J.P. Taylor. In 1936, Stephensen co-founded a magazine, The Publicist, which promulgated monarchical, pro-fascist, anti-Semitic, anti-Communist and pro-Aboriginal views.
Stephenson founded the Australia First Movement in October 1941, and took over the editorship of the magazine in early 1942, shortly before being interned without trial, along with other members of the Australia First Movement, for pro-Japanese and Axis sympathies.
Stephensen was joined by many others of varying degrees of enthusiasm and naivety. Some were products of the New Guard, others prompted by political adventurism tinged with admiration for Hitler’s achievements in pre-war Germany. It did not become a mass movement but nevertheless was and is an important component of Australia’s politics in this period. Dr Bird’s research has shone a most worthwhile light on this era.
While this is a scholarly and deeply researched book, its easy style reads more as a novel than a textbook. It should be widely read in order to understand this period.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.